21 February 2017. In her Assignment 5 feedback my tutor suggested I had a look at the way William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson approach the subject of shadows.
During my first OCA course, Drawing 1, William Kentridge (*1955, South Africa) became a great source of inspiration to me. I attempted to make two little animated charcoal/pastel films (Lacher-Bryk, 2015a; Lacher-Bryk, 2015b) after having seen his stunning work. Regarding shadows, I immediately stumbled again upon his “Shadow Procession” (Kentridge, 1999). To me, the walking silhouette figures, each carrying the burden of their personal and collective lives with them, together with the piercing song by Johannesburg street singer Alfred Makgalemele are deeply moving and disturbing. Both reinforce each other, simultaneous attention to both is possible at a maximum. Kara Walker’s (*1969, USA) silhouettes, on the other hand, while like Kentridge’s work focusing on the discrimination of coloured people, appear less subtle and quite aggressive. For that reason her sensitive drawings and paintings have a much greater appeal to me (ART21 “Exclusive”, 2014). Her very own choice of storytelling easily comprehensible, since Walker is of Afro-American descent, but the overt depiction of cruelty acts on me to avoid any more than a superficial contact with her work. In my own work I tried a similar approach in 2014. It took me some time to gather the courage to produce the caricature shown in Fig. 1 below, after the IS (so-called Islamic State) had started doing their horrible business of live executions. When I had finished the drawing, I felt physically sick for several days. The matter is whether an issue is important enough to accept the associated emotions and whether there is any alternative way to transport the message. In the meantime Kentridge has become a great hero and role model of mine in that respect.
22 February 2017. Ólafur Eliasson (*1967, Copenhagen) on the other hand, is an architect working globally, who approaches the subject of shadows from his own professional viewpoint. In both his “Multiple Shadow House” (Eliasson, 2010a) and “Your Uncertain Shadow” (Eliasson, 2010b) he investigates viewer interaction with projected shadows. This very attractive interactive type of display is something I first saw in a children’s technical museum in Vienna twenty years ago. In fact I had coloured shadows on my list for Assignment 5, but discarded the idea for Andersen’s tale. However, in comparison with both Kentridge and Walker I really miss a deeply empotional component in Eliasson’s work on shadows. The presentation is clean and distant, designlike, and a message, if at all, is created on a very personal level by each visitor interacting with his exhibit. His approach raises an interest in me as a natural scientist, but does not yet leave a lasting impression for my work as a developing painter. Maybe later, when I have defined my own goals better.
So, what is there to learn from the above artists for my project? All of them use shadows in a way that enables the viewer to see them as separate entities worth being treated as subjects of their own. None of them combines the source of the shadow (i.e. the object) and the shadow. I doubt whether I would be able to do the same for the purpose of my Andersen story, because then exactly that peculiar connection between the scientist and his shadow would be gone. Since, however, I already completed a finished painting covering the whole story, I will take the opportunity and have a go at a shadow-only approach to serve as a fourth painting as a late addition to Assignment 5.
21 February 2017. With things as they are now I can hardly get out to galleries. So I decided that I would look through local papers to see which exhibitions are on and do some distance research on the respective artists. I am well aware that this is no adequate replacement for the real thing, but still better than nothing.
My first goal was Raymond Pettibon (*1957, USA), who is on show at the moment at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg (Museum der Moderne, 2017). He is self-taught and difficult to assign to any school, but describes himself as deriving technique and ideas from his past drawing pop art album covers and comics, with artists like Edward Hopper or William Blake as sources of inspiration. Best known are Pettibon’s ink drawings, which he combines with text to create highly critical and fierce, satirical comments. His aim is the subversive reconstruction of a broken American myth (Artnet, 2017).
It is probably dangerous at the given moment to try and deduct influential aspects of his work into my own, as for study purposes I need to detach myself, for the time being, from my illustrative approach. So I will not go into more detail here, but will no doubt return on later courses and with reference to my work as a caricaturist.
21 February 2017. Luc Tuymans (*1958, Belgium) is a highly influential contemporary artist, who helped to revive figurative painting at a time of its predicted demise. Tuymans is torn between the inadequacy of traditional painting in dealing with the complexity of the modern world and its attraction. After a bout of film-making he returned with a new view and techniques taken from his experiences (Tate, 2004). My tutor suggested to have a look at his work to add to my own research for my 3rd assignment piece, “The Shadow. An attempt at an illustration”. She gave me a copy of a very faint monochrome painting, “Window” (Tuymans, 2004) to interpret and see whether this approach might help me in developing my own work.
Tuymans is interested in a great number of vastly heterogeneous subjects (Tate, 2004). This makes my reaction to his work heterogeneous as well between being attracted e.g. by the composition and lighting in “Panel” (Tuymans, 2010) and being repelled, such as the indication of a bent or broken body inside the tight-fitting tricot in “Illegitimate III” (Tuymans, 1997). Many of his paintings are reduced either in colour or in content, some are mere hints such as his “Window”. In the film clip available on Tate (2004) he explains that this is his own way of depicting the inadequacy of memory. While I believe that my own memory is somewhat different from his (working with much more colour and often with an overwhelming amount of detail, which is part of the diffculty of my problem with “developing” projects), I do understand how such extreme reduction acts to push the viewer’s imagination and how this fits in with my tutor’s remark of having overworked my final piece(s). In an attempt to sort of outmanoeuvre my imagination I will try and have an additional go at my 3rd final piece with Tuyman’s approach in mind, with more sketchbook experimentation derived from memories of my associated photo of my shadow entering an old farmhouse via a window. I will, however, not dedicate this experimentation as part of a set of predefined steps towards a goal, but will force myself to have my idea hover at the back of my mind only.
17 February 2017. In order not to confuse myself and fellow students following my blog I will shortly summarize here the changes I will need to be making to my coursework and blog to fit assessment requirements.
Minor changes to the whole blog:
All my posts will be updated with referencing corrected to fit the Harvard system.
Study visits in the area of Salzburg are planned between now and assessment cut-off in May. Reports to be added.
Major reworking of Part 5 of the course:
The sequence of posts will be rearranged to fit the sequence of projects and exercises in the study guide. This means that I will take parts from my assignment posts covering exercise work, copy them into the separate exercise posts and supplement them with additional exercises, some of which already exist but I had not considered worth posting in the light of my (failed) approach to Part 5 and some of which I will work on in the weeks to come.
The additional exercise work I will hopefully be doing in a larger sketchbook better suited for using paint (given I can buy one), and only there, as my tutor pointed out that otherwise exercise work may be unsuitable for assessors to be inspected within the given timeframe. My annotations I will try and make consistent throughout and more legible.
Exercises will not be done with a goal in mind, but playfully without intentions other than observing, accompanied by ample written-down analysis for personal gain in developing my project on shadows.
Additional artist research will be published in separate posts and slightly different regarding the conclusions made, with a main focus on information for my personal development.
The above exercises and research completed I will go over my assignment posts again and update them accordingly with the new information.
This is the plan and I will be needing to put up reminder signs in my workshop in order not to fall back into old habits. The changes I hope to be able to complete while starting to work on my next course, Understanding Painting Media (Lacher-Bryk, 2017).
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Understanding Painting Media – my third year OCA course blog [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA painting 1 blog: Understanding Painting Media, 14 February. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 17 February 2017]
15 February 2017. What luck that I still have lots of time to prepare for assessment! While part of Assignment 5 was quite successful (see end of this post), it did not turn out to be a great idea to deviate from the study guide despite having felt it to be a good way to tackle Part 5 of the course. I learned lots from this assignment – and I am extremely glad I took the risky route, because otherwise it might have taken me ages to find out about the following (and at this point I want to kindly ask OCA to provide beginner students with more precise information to avoid them getting lost somewhere on the way):
Stick to the study guide at all times unless the deviation is so thoroughly signposted/cross-referenced that it can be used by tutors and assessors with great ease: So, since I am always struggling to find enough time for OCA study (needing to do at least 15, sometimes 20 hours per week to finish a course within a year’s time), for me any deviating, no matter how useful it might appear, is going to be no option in the foreseeable future.
Do all exercises in the sketchbook in a meticulously structured way: For me, until now, the sketchbook had been something for personal use only, to accompany the “real” work. I think now that I might be slow to understand, but it took me until writing this post to grasp that it is supposed to contain the real work. I will need to buy a new, larger sketchbook, because I often tend to produce larger size stuff, up to A1, when experimenting.
Experimenting itself will have to come with more immediately written down thought directly relating to the experience gained when actually applying the paint: This is something I seem to have misunderstood until now. I know that I tend to use techniques not like tools taken from a toolbox, but as a wisp of intuition. This will have to change radically, or in my tutor’s words “If you can, go back to the initial work and reflect on what happened and how you felt the exercise went before extending your own evaluative written content about this exercise”. Not sure where spontaneity comes in here, but maybe this aspect files with “misunderstood” as well: I guess that applied spontaneity in its real sense builds on knowledge and technical ability, not the other way round.
My sketchbook is well-annotated, but difficult to read: I had not realized that this would be necessary as I had assumed the notes were for my personal use only.
Always use the Harvard referencing system, even in blog posts: No tutor has pointed out to me until just now that this is expected even in learning logs, not only for set pieces of writing such as essays: I will go through my posts and correct them.
Paint, paint, paint, even if it is only tiny side notes: Making drawings and using photos is inadequate to produce the kind of information tutors and assessors will look for: I will try and put together a “travel set” to have in the car to use when I encounter spare time. This is often not more than literally minutes and I have not found a solution yet for travelling with wet paint without destroying some of the results. Also, the paper in all the sketchbooks I have is not really made for painting. Watercolours tend to soak both the front and back of a page and cause the paper to undulate in a most unfortunate way, while acrylics make pages stick together. I will have to ask my art supplier for advice.
I do not seem to put enough information on my artist research into both sketchbook and blog, while also not taking enough personal information from the research I do: This is another difficult point. There is so much going on in my head that it becomes quite overwhelming at times, so that the researched information gets pushed to the side. Will have to switch my brain on more often …
Only tackle the final painting after exhaustive experimentation: I do not know how I will cope with that, because I am never finished with experimenting. So-called finished paintings always tend to surprise me with new turns, e.g. in my illustration of Andersen’s tale (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). My tutor points out the effect visible in the vase as something worth working with in an experimental series before attempting the final piece. However, I did not know before working on the final piece that I would encounter this effect. I hope that I may find a way to correspond to requirements here.
Be careful not to overwork (“overexplain”) the final paintings: My tutor indicated that preparing by making lots of small paintings will help with avoiding overworking, while allowing to increase the risk-taking. I just hope that this will the case with me, it will need a lot of mental resetting.
Explain more, e.g. why I choose a particular subject beyond finding it “interesting”: To me the introductory section I wrote for my self-evaluation seemed sufficient at the point, but this is not so. I need to “explain why I chose this subject against the project exercises for clarity”. I have to admit that at this point I am not sure what is expected of me, but I guess that I will need to add some project exercises whose results will then sort of prompt me to embark on the subject of shadows.
To summarize, there is still too little researched background, both in a theoretical and practical way, to my finished work despite an extensive, well-written learning log. While I write this I notice that my scientist’s mind, with some gritty resistance, seems to be making another step forward in understanding what is expected. I have to accept, quickly, that it is the process of creating, and not with any preformed goal in mind, which I need to be looking for, documenting every emerging aspect, based on and constantly related to the work of artists in the field (as my tutor says about my research on Abstract Expressionism: “I would make your point of reference here much clearer. Explain in more detail why and how it has been interesting for you. Explain in more detail how this references your interests in shadows and how you may wish to make abstract works from this and so on.”. I am extremely glad that I chose Understanding Painting Media for my next course, where I expect to find ample opportunity to do just that. My tutor suggested that I read widely around my subject of shadows in preparation for the next course. This sounds like a great idea and will clearly help me with structuring my imagination.
In preparation for assessment I will now need to do the following:
Assessors will be looking at my work in a way that is structured by the sequence of exercises as contained in the coursebook. In order to achieve this I will need to add to Part 5 posts cross-referencing and sub-heading information for easy access and use.
Also I will need to add some more well-structured and documented preliminary experimentation, since there was too little of that in part of my assignment. It will have to fit in with a “development towards”.
There will have to be an addition of more research and cross-referencing with contemporary artists, taking care to access a larger diversity of highest quality resources.
Citations throughout my blog will need to be changed to fit the Harvard system.
15 February 2017. Having said all that I do not want to sound desperate. So, quoting from the many positive aspects in my tutor feedback:
“This is a great demonstration of creative activity and demonstrates clearly how an idea develops along the way.” (referring to the sequence of “A Shadow-only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).
“Your research is thorough, personally rigorous and the outcomes you have made demonstrated your creative and visual skills well. You have used paint loosely and haven’t been afraid to lose control, which is a big step in your development on this course […] The painting on acetate is bold and daring, so try to maintain this whenever you can.” (referring to “A Shadow On His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c)).
“You have really developed a good personally driven research project here […] Overall you have done well and produced work that is personally driven, ambitious and wide ranging.”
Keeping this in mind I am off now to hopefully getting everything else right for assessment, following my tutor’s advice to “edit and pull out some pieces that leave the work teetering on the brink of your viewer’s interest”.
6 February 2017. This review is something I have been planning to write since last summer. My tutor recommended the book “Colour. Documents of Contemporary Art”, edited by David Batchelor. The book contains what the editor calls a broadly chronological collage of texts on colour written by famous artists and thinkers starting in the mid 19th century (Batchelor, 2008, p. 17).
This is no book for casual reading. Whichever text I chose, I noticed how deeply every author felt about colour: Each has their very own personal approach and experience with colour, so no text is like any other. What is shared among most of them, however, and which I did not feel too comfortable about, was most authors’ conviction of being in the possession of some ultimate truth. I was amazed that a seemingly gentle subject like this, colour (!) of all things, could raise such fierce argument, ruthless praising of one’s own position simultaneously with the cruel damnation of others. I suspect that the argument is not about colour at all, but about sailing under different colours, so to speak. The latter is a matter of territory. As in any field which has not yet revealed all its secrets and the contributors have not yet arrived at a common solution, there is a natural tendency for each to put forward and defend their own position, since appearing in the right of course often comes along with an increase in social rank, influence and material wealth.
7 February 2017. It is futile to try to concoct a summary or essence from the texts contained in this book. They shed light on too many different aspects of colour and its position in art and human life in general. To me it serves as a great source of ad hoc inspiration. It has been lying on my bedside table for most of last year and I keep opening it at random. In order to illustrate the effect, I did just that three times for this review and tried to write short accounts reflecting spontaneously their respective influence on me:
p. 142 Claude Lévi-Strauss (Philosophers.co.uk, 2012): The Raw and The Cooked (1964)
The main argument put forward by the author of this essay, famous French structuralist philosopher and anthropologist, is a rejection of the common, but in his eyes inadequate equation of musical sound with colour in painting. Since musical notes have no equivalent in nature, while colour is all around us available for imitation, he rates the achievements of music higher than those of the visual arts.
8 February 2017. While I can follow his idea in principle, any such attempt at placing one field of art above the other for its degree of inventiveness appears to me as deficient in rigour. If just summarizing the most superficial of arguments, I find among them many upon which I could rest a reversal of “hierarchy” between colour and sound: Working with colour is greatly amenable to the resource of simultaneity, which for reasons I have no clear understanding of, has strict limitations in music: There is only a very limited number of sounds you can hear at the same time before you would classify them as noise, but there is no limit to the simultaneous perception of, say, the number of greens present in a landscape. There also, in my eyes, appears to be nothing in colour which would be an equivalent to the perceived effect of dissonance in sound. Graphical arts are also of course developed way beyond the mere copying of colour in nature. Even only for the above reasons I see no point in raising an argument between these two fields of art. They should best be made use of and enjoyed for their respective merits.
p. 194 Stephen Melville (The Ohio State University, n.d.): Colour Has Not Yet Been Named (1993)
Melville is an outstanding American art historian. I have to admit that I had to concentrate hard to be able to even make sense of his sentences and I suspect that he lost me on the way. If I understand correctly he addresses in this account a phenomenon how colour, despite having been extensively researched and quite fully described regarding its physical and psychological qualities, is an entity much larger than what we find within the boundaries (physical and mental frames, so to speak) set by the workings of the human mind. I hope that this is what he means when saying: “[… ] Colour is then no longer simply contained within the painting but is also that which, within the painting, assigns it its frame, even as it conceals itself as the source of that assignment. In so far as colour is and is not the historical bearer of a certain truth of painting that is and is not the truth of the frame in which it is contained, colour bids to pass beyond itself.”
I know why I will never be an art historian.
p. 62 Oswald Spengler (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010): The Decline of the West (1918)
German historian Spengler wrote at a time, when it apparently was still acceptable and convenient not to question, to split the world into the civilized part (the educated West, where he belonged) and the other, savage and sensuous, historical as well as contemporary rest. In his own world, blue and green are the good, the spiritual, non-sensuous colours, and they rightfully dominate oil-painting. Red and yellow on the other hand reflect the basic elements of the unreflected, raw “point-existence” life of the “crowds, children, women and savages” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010), in that order. Spengler even appears to have concluded, from the reintroduction of the colours of the savage, red and yellow, into painting (God forbid!), that “the West had already passed through the creative stage of “culture” into that of reflection and material comfort (“civilization” proper, in his terminology) and that the future could only be a period of irreversible decline.” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010). Although I know that the above was by no means thought up by Spengler alone and I have come across several such accounts before, it still makes me feel very uncomfortable to read such preoccupied nonsense, to say the least.
The above three accounts are only tiny snippets from an immense field of research, which can serve both as a source of inspiration as well as desperation. For me, however, the reading of theoretical texts about colour, no matter how hot-blooded the argument and fluid the writing, feels like watching colour on a palette dry up. At the risk of being accused of leading a woman’s point-existence I would rather use the paint ;o).
Batchelor, D. ed. (2008) Colour: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery and Cambrige: The MIT Press.
1 February 2017. My decision regarding the subject for Assignment 5 was made quite early in the course and having thought a lot about it, I noticed for the first time that shadows have been of interest to me for a very long time, not only during this course (e.g. in Assignment 1, Lacher-Bryk, 2016a), but also outside OCA as well as many years before starting the degree. I am drawn to their ever-changing physical properties and wonderfully pliable metaphorical qualities. The more I explore them, the more I realise the treasure they contain for artistic expression and development.
As always at the outset I was determined to produce the maximum, i.e. five, pieces of work for this assignment. I went through a great amount of scientific research in order to get acquainted with as many facets of my subject as possible. Following this I sat down to initially list around 10 general ideas, two of which survived throughout and a new one, which was added after discussing the subject externally. I found that all three choices would require a great amount of dedicated work, so I changed the original plan by reducing the finished subjects to three. However, for two of the subjects I produced two finished paintings each, so overall there were still five to submit.
The subjects, in order of production, were:
(1) “A Shadow-only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a)
I investigated inhowfar it would be possible to determine the form of 3-dimensional objects solely by the shadows falling on them. The resulting shapes I then transformed into abstracted paintings, one close to the original setup and one playing with the found patterns (Fig. 1 and 2 below).
For the first time I was able to produce paintings as the result of painstaking preparatory work including extensive research, observing the chosen subject from many different viewpoints, experimenting with a large set of ways of applying paint and abstracting from the gained results. The painting on top I like for the choice of colours, setup and loose application of paint. I have been able also to include experience gained regarding paint behaviour in Part 4 of the course (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b). Regarding the bottom painting I am pleased that I was able to let myself be inspired by ideas passing through my head and include them in a coherent way into a working painting. I think however that due to my lack of experience the finished painting looks overworked in places and not totally convincing regarding composition.
(2) “A Shadow On His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b)
This part was an investigation into means of transporting the innermost darkness of a well-known dictator to the surface of his portrait (Fig. 3-4).
I was happy to discover that despite the large differences in approach both paintings appear to succeed in transporting a shadow on a troubled soul. In the top painting I was glad to have combined several totally different means of applying paint – two “runny” underlying layers suggesting the troubled soul combined with an exaggerated sketchy portrait representing the attempt of this person to remain outwardly intact and quiet. The second attempt (bottom image) used totally different supports. The portrait on a piece of A1 transparent plastic is combined with a completely separate, smaller piece of plastic roughly covered in dark paint to allow a viewer to experiment directly with its effect on the appearance of the face. I expect that I may have to rework the small piece of plastic for final submission since the applied paint is not as stable as expected.
(3) “The Shadow”, an attempt at illustrating Andersen’s famous tale (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c)
Since in this story the dark part of a depicted personality becomes separate from its carrier in form of his shadow, I was able to apply the results gained in the first two subjects to this part of the submission. I was able to produce with greater ease a believable composition including cast shadows and the interaction of a man with the dark parts he knows are tainting his soul (Fig. 5).
I did a great amount of research into this subject relating to its real-world background, contemporary art as well as technical aspects, followed by experimentation with materials and methods totally new to me before attempting the final piece. While I am very happy with the outcome regarding composition, use of colour and story told, I am well aware that illustration is not an explicit part of this course. I made this decision deliberately, however, and will take the risk of submitting this work for assessment since it is supported by a great amount of work based on direct observation.
Before starting Part 5 of the course I realised that in order to be able to immerse myself completely into the chosen subject, I would need to integrate the set exercises for this part into the development of my assignment pieces. Once I had decided on this technique of approaching this part for me the structure of the course (exercises, research, assignment piece(s)) suddenly became a coherent whole and finally I was able to really follow my tutor’s instructions regarding going through meaningful processes of concept development. For me this experience was eye-opening and liberating. I never enjoyed the course more than during Part 5 and this is where I think I made essential progress. There were several points throughout the course where other important steps happened. They were not so much part-related but occurred coincidentally and liberated creative resources within myself:
when I found out about the incredible difference between bad and good quality acrylic paint halfway through the course
when in my Assignment 3 feedback my tutor advised me not to worry about leaving things unfinished (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c)
when in the same feedback my tutor advised me to make my sketchbook a painted one (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c)
and – something I would never have expected given my personality –
when I realized that I would not be able to stick to my plan of submitting for March 2017 assessment
2 February 2017. Looking back on the course I think that it took me well into Part 4 to loosen up. I attribute some of that difficulty to both the way I tend to approach things – my parents once asked me why I always had to take the hardest roads to arrive at something – and life in general, which in my case tends to block the easy roads. Maybe I have now come to accept this fact, both as a hindrance but also as a powerful liberating force of creativity. This seems where I have made a large step, which very likely has not translated yet into major technical progress, but the journey through Part 5 proved a major personal gain for me. Where this will become visible I will have to see.
An overall look back on the course and progress evaluation will be posted in preparation for July 2017 assessment.
Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
14 January 2017. Needing a short break from my own Part 5 attempts at abstraction (doubting whether I should be calling my results that), I went to have a look at the “Turps Banana” website, which my tutor had recommended earlier in the course and which I could not persuade myself to subscribe to as yet. I don’t feel confident enough yet to draw useful information from the presented art and artists. However, on the website I was introduced to the intriguing and weird work of John Greenwood (1959, UK) ((Turps Banana, 2016), whose way of thinking comes close to my own but at an immensely higher level of expertise and concentration (Greenwood, n.d.). In approach he is likened to Hieronymus Bosch, whose ideas I also feel quite at home with. In contrast to Bosch’s dark medieval messages, Greenwood’s absurd creatures, which remind me of what you get when applying electron microscopy to the tiniest living things, appear totally at ease in their own crowded, glittering world, they do not seem to mind being put in boxes not much larger in size than their bodies (and observation I feel is in contrast to the claustrophobia mentioned in the article presented on Greenwood’s website (Woodley, 2016).
The paintings are great fun to explore, full of beautifully executed detail. I could get lost in them.
Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
8 January 2017. One should never try and guess at the meaning of a word from what you think you know. “Tachism” (French: tachisme) to me appeared obvious, derived from the Greek word for speed, tachos. But not so, the word comes from the French for stain, tache. It is similar to action painting and considered to be more or less synonymous with the Informel, a more intuitive, gesture-centred counter movement to the geometrical analysis of colour and shape as celebrated by e.g. Josef Albers (1888-1976, Germany/USA) and is the 1940/1950s European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism developed in the USA. In contrast to the latter its proponents were somewhat less aggressive and spontaneous in the use of paint (Tate, n.d.(a), Collins, n.d.(a)).
The term “Tachisme” was originally coined much earlier by art critics to describe a number of different approaches to using paint in a “blotchy” way, including Impressionism, while the movement itself developed into one of the largest in Post World War II Europe and comprises works or art “without predefined form or structure”. Mark-making includes everything from any sort of coincidental splotch to calligraphic elements, often directly from the tube (Collins, n.d.(a)). Many contributing artists were either French and/or based in France. Among the most influential artists of the 20th century was Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985, France), co-founder of the Art Brut movement. He is quoted to have said:”Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” (Collins, n.d.(b)), which to me appears to be at the centre of tachism, i.e. to capture the essence of being in the moment. Most well known Dubuffet became for his rough, provocative graffiti-like paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, e.g. “Grand Maitre of the Outsider” painted in 1947 (Wikiart, n.d.). Gestural painter Hans Hartung (1904-1989, Germany/France, (Tate, n.d. (b))) appears to have interpreted Tachism with a more subtle, delicate and sketchlike brushstroke (Artnet, n.d.; Setareh Gallery, n.d.), and a video showing his gestural approach (Ophanin, 2014). Georges Mathieu (1921-2012, France, (Collins, n.d.(c))) is known for his “spiky, calligraphic style”, which in some way appears related to that of Hartung’s, but its effects (and those of image cultivation, see a video (Warin and Batton, 1965)) greatly increased to quasi Baroque dimensions, in a style described as Lyrical Abstraction. Patrick Heron (1920-1999, UK), on the other hand, was influenced by colour field painting in the style of Mark Rothko and is outstanding in his ingenious use of vivid colour and sensitive compositions including abstract shapes derived from nature (Collins, n.d.(d)).
Franz Kline (1910-1962, USA) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA, (The Art Story, n.d.(b))) were two preeminent representatives of American Abstract Expressionism. The former trained as a graphical artist and illustrator and his abstract graphical black and white images are considered to be action painting in its purest sense ((The Art Story, n.d.(a))). His technique can be watched in a video here (The Museum of Modern Art, 2010): Kline preferred to use cheap brands of house paint, because their non-art qualities, including the low viscosity, bore a great attraction for him. Action painting as a record of the artist’s movements in time and space is of course present also in the work of Jackson Pollock. The sheer complexity makes the history of mark-making however hardly traceable in any one of his giant size drip and splatter paintings (The Art Story, n.d.(b).
Abstract expressionist has been at the centre of interest ever since its first appearance and the list of artists now working in an abstract expressionist or offshoot way is endless (Pinterest, n.d.). A great number of painters working now have developed the original idea further and combined it with or replaced it by the new techniques offered by the modern media.
Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).
20 December 2016. Apart from random effects achieved e.g. by allowing a pigmented substance to run freely and practically uncontrolled (as e.g. in Hermann Nitsch, *1938, controversial Austrian experimental artist, (Marc Straus Gallery, 2015)), the application of paint is usually a closely observed, tested and corrected process. In classical representational painting textural effects of paint are rarely used. It is applied in a way so as to reproduce as faithfully as possible what is seen and the characteristics of the paint become invisible behind the subject of the painting.
With the advent of the Impressionists, and later the Expressionist, there was a radical change. Not least due to accumulating knowledge in the natural sciences artists became increasingly interested in the physical and chemical properties of the paints they used and in gaining access to means of exploiting them for artistic expression.
Claude Monet (1840-1926, France) was name-giving to the Impressionist movement. He introduced a looser, bolder handling of paint in response of the directly observed environment. In his later years he started building fields of colour with small strokes, looking to introduce surface effects in a dialogue with the colours used (The Art Story, n.d.(a)). In his extensive series of paintings of London’s Waterloo Bridge, created between 1899 and 1904 in oil on canvas, he captured different atmospheric qualities in this way. As e.g. the fog increases and outlines of the buildings become indistinct (top to bottom) Monet adapts his method of applying paint from bold to soft, always with a main focus on the light (Fig. 1-3):
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903, Denmark/France) worked with similar ideas but in a less abstract way than Monet. His dashed brushstrokes he used to weave a fabric in which is subjects are embedded (The Art Story, n.d.(b)) (Fig. 4):
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906, France) worked together with Pissarro over a lifetime and is seen as the main pioneering artist paving the way to all new approaches to addressing the substance qualities of paint. He applied paint in discrete brushstrokes in order to construct and sculpt rather than paint his works of art (The Art Story, n.d.(c)) (Fig. 5):
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890, Netherlands) used similarly energetic bushstrokes. While less sculptural in a traditional “Cézanne sense”, their impulsive structural quality helps capture and translate the artist’s emotional state into something literally graspable (The Art Story, n.d.(d)). I went to have a look for examples other than his post-impressionist work “Starry Night”, but returned to it, because I believe there is no better painting to illustrate the above (Fig. 6):
In one analysis of this work (Artble, n.d.) I found an attempt to attribute both his choice of colours and dramatic brushwork to his mental illness, although in his letter describing the development of this painting to his brother Theo he appears extremely focused and thoughtful (Blumer, 2002). It makes me wonder, why a gift of being able to see the world with other than purely rational eyes has to be turned into something insane. Could it be that, apart from the consequences of his long-term alcohol and drug abuse, part of Van Gogh was driven mad by his uncomprehending environment? Certainly with the advent of the Expressionist movement society slowly but gradually became acquainted with the new developments in art and learned to see with different eyes. I suspect that Van Gogh would have made a brilliant Expressionist or 21st century painter with nobody dreaming of branding him as his contemporaries used to do.
While during the period of Impressionism and beyond oil on canvas continued to be favoured by most painters, Expressionists started looking further afield (Boddy-Evans, 2016). With the advent of photography painting was “released from the need to copy nature”, as Henry Matisse (1869-1954, France) put it and artists thus became free in their choice of colour and way of applying paint. Colour, overall, started to be removed from reality, brushwork and paint application became liberal and generous (Tate, n.d.(a)). Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980, Austria, (Tate, n.d.(b))), for example, was one of its highly influential representatives working far into the second half of the 20th century. Abstract Expressionism (The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog, 2010) at the other extreme end of the spectrum uses paint in a spontaneous way to recreate emotional states without a connection to reality. Any contributing element, including found objects, can be used and paint may be applied with any conceivable means (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016). Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(e)) was one of its pre-eminent early representatives and famous for his very large size splatter and drip works. He explained – although furiously rejected by some critics analysing his work – that his application of paint was not purely random, but rather a focused dialogue with the developing work of art (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016).
Among the many versatile painting materials available today pastels appear to take a special position. They lend themselves with less ease to the copious and highly gestural use of paint typical of many contemporary art movements. Also, in my opinion, their properties produce neither paintings nor drawings, but a curious and pleasing mix of both (Fig. 7):
I did not find many 20th century pastel painters as instructed by the study guide. They were most popular in the 18th and late 19th centuries, but not since then, which may be owing to the above fact of a relatively restricted field of application and uniform needs in application (mostly sand or velvet papers). It is more their brilliant colours than their structural proterties, which attract artists, so I am not sure whether the subject is truly one for this post. However, they allow the – careful – placement of a number of layers on top of each other, which gives the finished paintings unrivalled depth. The incredible ease of application is attractive for artists working spontaneously, too. A search on the Saatchi online gallery gives a good overview over the range of contemporary pastel painting (Saatchi, n.d.).
Overall, I guess that there may not be a single substance or item that has not yet been used in painting with more or less success. Whatever method is used it becomes clear very quickly that each requires practice, thorough planning and a keen sense for the appropriate. Otherwise there is a real danger of skilled spontaneity changing place with arbitrariness, which is something the human eye is programmed to detect.
Monet, C. (1900) Waterloo Bridge [oil on canvas] [online]. Santa Barbara Museum of Art . Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_(W_1555).jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]
Monet, C. (1903a) Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect [oil on canvas] [online]. Denver Art Museum. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]
Monet, C. (1903b) Waterloo Bridge [oil on canvas] [online]. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo-Br%C3%BCcke_-_1903.jpeg [Accessed 20 December 2016]